A few years ago, it was revealed that the Southern Baptist Convention had compiled elaborate demographic maps of the United States. The maps displayed painstakingly calculated estimates of the number of citizens in each state who had been saved (46.1 percent in Alabama, for example) and also the number who would burn eternally in a lake of fire. It’s hard to imagine a more ludicrous press release, or a more offensive one—and yet something about the Baptists’ exercise struck a chord in me.
When I was ten years old and actively attending two Presbyterian churches, I would wander the streets of Lexington, Virginia, studying the progress of the Christian project. The older boys smoking in the 76 station lot: had they committed more sins today than yesterday, or fewer? Did the decrepit church up by the middle school save any souls? And what about the mountains outside of town? Of course God intended their beauty to impart some kind of ethical message—but what?...
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